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How to Become a Master of Meetings

Over the years, I've run a lot of meetings. Some went well and many went spectacularly badly. This has given me the opportunity to test a lot of different techniques and I have created a comprehensive meetings framework that can be used in any situation.

Below is a 10-point plan that is guaranteed to keep attendees engaged and make your meetings the highlight of everyone's day...

1. All meetings should have a goal which would normally be some sort of decision or action plan. Having a goal gives your meeting pinpoint focus with a clear target to aim for.

2. If you've read my article on Agendas, you'll know that an Agenda is an essential tool for any meeting. It holds the whole meeting together and gives you structure and purpose.

3. Make sure you turn up a couple of minutes before the meeting is due to start. You don't want to be one of the last to arrive as people may have already started discussions, which can be difficult to interrupt. I would, however, avoid arriving too early. You don't want to be sitting in the room on your own for too long.

4. Where to sit? The common opinion is to sit in the middle of the table, if possible. This is good advice and it will certainly help you to run the meeting if you are in the centre. Some people like to sit at the head of the table. This is generally reserved for the position of authority. While you may need to occasionally show your authority, it is more important to foster a sense of inclusion which is easier when you are sitting between people.

5. Whenever possible, you should start the meeting on time.

This may not always be practical if key people have not yet arrived. If you do decide to postpone the meeting, you should always keep people informed, especially if the meeting involves colleagues on the telephone. Show everyone you are in control and that the meeting starts when you are ready.

6. When you do decide to start the meeting, introductions are often the perfect way to kick things off. Personally, I'm not a fan of going around the room asking people to say who they are. This is really something the chairperson should do. You will then be able to make sure only relevant information about each person is communicated to the group.

I used to go to one regular meeting which consisted of around 50 people, and the chair would introduce each person individually. It would take about ten minutes to get through this, and by the end, the energy level in the room was pretty low.

In situations like this, it is better to bundle people into their teams or functions, and introduce groups, rather than individuals.

Whether you are introducing individuals or teams, what you should explain is what their role is and why they are in the meeting.

7. As part of the intro, you should briefly run through the agenda and ask if there are any additional points. Additional agenda points at this late stage can disrupt the flow of the meeting, but asking this question gives the opportunity for feedback, and subsequently buy-in for the whole meeting.

8. Once you've finished the intro (which should take no more than two or three minutes) all you need to do now is follow the agenda. If you've initiated the meeting correctly, this will be simple.

Of course, it is crucial to continually assess the progress of the meeting against the goal. You can then steer the conversation in the correct direction if things are veering off course.

It is also important to make sure you manage the time so that you get through all the agenda points. If it looks as if you need more time, you should ask everybody if the meeting can be extended. The general rule is to only request an extension if you think you can reach the necessary decisions within 10 minutes. If it is likely to go on longer, you should wrap up on time and schedule another meeting.

9. Like a good presentation, you want a strong end to your meeting, and you don't want it to just fizzle out. A good way to finish is a quick recap of the agenda, along with any decisions and action points that have been identified. If you do this, then the meeting will come to a natural end and everyone will be happy.

10. Lastly, it is always a good idea to follow up after the meeting with brief notes.

Things can often be misinterpreted, so notes help to officialise what was agreed upon. These notes can also be very useful if this is a regular meeting, as they can be used as the basis of the next meeting's agenda.

A final word; if you find that half way through a meeting, things aren't going as well as you hoped, don't be afraid to stop and reschedule for another time. There's no point carrying on and you may want to go away and reassess. People will be thankful for your consideration.

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